Are you publishing stale content?

A question hit me a few years ago after the Flathead Beacon​ brought home yet another armload of Montana journalism awards. The question was “Is the column I publish there of (at least) equivalent quality?” In other words, I’m on the pages of this modern, very successful digital (and weekly print) newspaper with multi-award winning journalists and photographers. Am I bringing down the average?

Only the readers (and perhaps the editor) can answer that, but it stuck in my head as something to consider every time I hovered over the “Post” button for a column.

A better question

I believe a better question to ask yourself these days is this: “Is the content I’m publishing worth consuming right now?

What if they aren’t viewing / reading it right now? Am I producing lame content? Stale content? Both?

You might have metrics saying that your audience is pushing your content to Buffer, Flipboard, Reading List, Pocket, etc – but that doesn’t mean they’re actually reading it. My suspicion is that the majority of URLs pushed to deferred reading platforms never get read and another pile of them aren’t read for days, weeks or months. This GigaOm story about the overall Pocket saved-to-stored ratio for all Pocket users backs that up.

Pocket is like your Getting Things Done method’s inbox of reading material. Once a URL is off an active browser tab and resting comfortably in Pocket, it’s off the “I MUST READ THIS BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE!” list. Every time you click that Pocket button, your mind screams with freedom like a Dave Ramsey debt-free caller because you’ve temporarily deferred the guilt of not reading everything. Because, you know, only the very best and most successful business people read everything and everyone else is a failure, right? (Yes, that was sarcasm)

Think about what you write. If it goes into someone’s Pocket for a month, does it lose its effectiveness and impact? Does it matter a month from now if they do happen to read it later? Do they read it later? The GigaOm link says Pocket confirmed that the average Pocketed-to-actually-read for all Pocket users is about 50%. I’ll bet my percentage is lower than the Pocket average because I use it as a keyword-oriented search tool as well as a read-it-later tool. I file something there with tags and later use those tags to find things I need on those topics.

What provoked this thought process? This “content shock” piece from Christopher Penn, which sat in Pocket for a few days before I actually read it. It escaped becoming stale content for me.

What your customers don’t know

One of the more dangerous things that can get stuck a writer’s head is the feeling (assumption) that everyone knows or has already read about what you’d like to write about. This usually happens because the writer is so familiar with the material, concept or admonition that they simply assume that everyone knows about it, or has heard it already.

The same thing happens when a business owner considers what to communicate to their prospects and clients.

I’ve heard it all before.

Ever been to an industry conference session where the speaker talked about a fundamental strategy or tactic that you’ve known (and hopefully practiced) for years (or decades)? If so, it might have bothered you that the speaker talked about it as if it was new information. It might also have made you feel as if you’d wasted your time in that session, and that everyone else in the room did too.

Did you think “Everybody knows that“?

Unless the audience was very carefully selected to eliminate all but the “newbies”, it’s a safe bet that the audience breaks down like this:

  • Some of the people in the room are so familiar with that strategy or knowledge that they could be called up to the stage to teach it at a moment’s notice.
  • Some of the people in the room learned that information for the first time.
  • Some of the people in the room had probably heard it before, perhaps decades ago, but forgot about it.
  • Some of the people in the room knew about this fundamental piece of knowledge but have since forgotten to implement it or stopped using it – probably for reasons that would be categorized as “we got busy” or “we forgot about it“.

Everybody knows that” simply isn’t true unless the audience is highly controlled.

Most of the time, there’s a good reason to cover foundational material. Even if the fundamentals of whatever you do haven’t changed, something about how they’re applied probably has changed. Even if they haven’t, a reminder about the things “everyone knows” is usually productive to some of your clientele.

If you first learned whatever you do for a living 10 or 20 years ago, some of the fundamentals have probably changed. There are some fields where this isn’t true, but that doesn’t mean that changes haven’t happened.

Your customers’ knowledge is no different

Your prospects and clients are all on a different place on their lifecycle as a prospect or client with you. This is one of the reasons why you may have read or heard from myself and others that you should segment your message.

When I say “your message”, I mean the things you talk about in your newsletters, emails, website, direct marketing, video, sales pitch and so on.

As an example, someone who has owned two Class A RVs is likely going to be interested in a different conversation than someone in the process of selecting their first bumper pull camper trailer.

Despite that, if you have regular communications of general information to your clients (and surely you do), fundamental topics like changes in waste disposal and easier ways to winterize are always going to be in context – assuming you send the winterizing information in the month or so before your clients’ first freeze.

The key to getting the right info to the right people is to segment the audience (and thus the information), while not forgetting fundamentals that everyone can use a refresher on now and then.

Segmenting fundamentals

So how would you segment the educational marketing messages you provide to clients and prospects? How about new prospects, new clients and old hands?

For prospects, a “How to buy” series of information is a highly useful, low pressure way to identify the differences between yourself and the rest of your market, without naming anyone. “This is what we do and this is why we feel it’s important, be sure and ask these questions” is a powerful way to set the tone for the purchase process.

For new clients, provide a jump start. This will also give them a “this is reality” view of what ownership is like that can defuse a naturally occurring case of buyer’s remorse.

For old hands, discuss the questions that cause you to say “Hang on, let me go ask someone in the back“.

Speaking of fundamentals, that’s what this was all about.

Has your client list heard from you lately?

As we head into retail’s peak shopping season, the big question is “Will my clientele buy…again?”

Have you had any contact with them since last November or December? The people spending money are in your client list, right?

Client list?

If they aren’t on your client list (or you don’t have one), how would you tell them important news when they aren’t on your site or in your store?

Without an accurate list, the only way to attempt to reach them is by spending a ton of money on advertising that isn’t guaranteed to reach your existing clients.

While you may want to advertise anyway, the message you craft (note the use of the word “craft”) for your clientele about this news should be different than the message received by the general public (or your market, if you’re  business-to-business)

Think about it. How would you tell them these things?

  • We’re moving.
  • We moved.
  • We expanded our facilities.
  • We added a new location.
  • We closed an old location.
  • We’ve expanded into these great product lines that are perfect for you.
  • We got rid of a product line that wasn’t up to our standards.
  • We’ve hired someone who is an amazing subject matter expert on (whatever is important to your clientele).
  • We bought a competitor, now we have even more great locations and consistent product and services. For those who are clients of the competitor, here’s how we’re different, better, etc.

Your client list is an asset as much as a building or your checking account. If you aren’t building it, it’s difficult to keep a connection with your clientele. What will keep them from randomly going to someone else?

The medium you use to reach them doesn’t matter. Reaching them is what matters.

What do I say to them?

What’s changed at your store in the last year? What’s new in the last year?

If “Not much” is your first instinct in response, consider these questions:

  • What service, product, customer care, processes, payment methods, shipping, return (or other) policies have changed?
  • What are people buying this year that they weren’t buying last year? Why? Is the reason important to your clientele?
  • What isn’t selling this year that was last year? Why? Is the reason important to your clientele?
  • What have you learned in the last year that can benefit them?
  • Do you have new staff members that can help them?
  • What new equipment do you have that allows you to serve them faster or better?

Would those changes be jarring to someone who hasn’t been in your store in 10-12 months? Warn them in advance than surprise them when they walk in the door or move to your checkout page.

But Mark, I don’t have a store

That’s OK. The question is at least as important for you if all of your sales are done by phone, online or in a mobile storefront (think “food cart”).

If you sell on Etsy, on your own site, via Shopify or Facebook or at local events like the farmer’s market and ballgames – how will they remember you when it’s time to buy if they haven’t heard from you in months (or longer)?

What do I say?

I covered that above, but it’s important enough to discuss in general terms because you will eventually feel like you’ve run out of things to say.

At that point, the temptation will be to do one of these things:

  • Send something, any old thing, just to stay in touch.
  • Send ads when you can’t thing of anything else to say.
  • Send nothing.

All three are a bad idea, but the first two are the worst.

The first one often results in a shrinking client list because they aren’t receiving anything meaningful from you.

The second one requires care. If you are sending useful, actionable information often enough, then an occasional ad email or footer on your regular emails is OK. What you don’t want to do is forget why you built the list in the first place and start advertising 100% of the time.

The third one is not ideal, but it beats the other two.

The key is to communicate with meaningful, useful info. You may think you have nothing left to say, but the reality is that you’ve forgotten more about your business than they’ll ever know.

Given that… Be helpful when you contact them. It’ll pay off.

Prevent lost customers with these five words

Small businesses are always interested in getting more new customers, but sometimes forget that keeping existing customers is less expensive than the cost of replacing them.

While products, services and customer support are critical to the health of your business, it’s critical to maintain a strong connection with your customers through properly timed communications.

Tending to this connection and nurturing into a relationship is critical to the health of your business.

Think about the businesses you frequent most often. Do they communicate in a way that encourages trust, doesn’t waste your time or take you for granted?

These things build a good business relationship just as they do a personal one.

Five words can help you stay focused on helping your small business prevent lost customers and improve the quality and effectiveness of your communication with clients.

Collect

Despite the obvious need to stay in touch or be forgotten, most businesses fail to setup a consistent, cost-effective system to collect contact information from their customers. 

10 years ago, most people would give up their contact info much more readily than they will today – and for good reason. Combine spammers, data breaches by hackers (or data shared by them) and the all too often inappropriate use of customer data, your clients have plenty of reasons to have second thoughts about passing along their contact info – even if it’s nothing more than their email address. 

These days, it has to be worth it to let you into their email box, even though it is (usually) easier than ever to leave their email list.

Think about the last time you gave someone your email address. Did they treat it well, thus appreciating that you allowed them to email you? Did they abuse the privilege?  Did they send info that clearly had nothing to do with you, your needs, wants and desires – or did they nail it?

Imagine how much trust it takes for them to give you their full contact info. Are you honoring that trust? Given the data breaches in the news these days, this is a taller order than it used to be.

Talk

Most small businesses don’t communicate enough with
their present customers in multiple, cost-effective
ways.

I say multiple because what works for one doesn’t always work for another. If you have a great Android smartphone app to communicate with your customers, where does that leave customers who own iPhones? What about customers who don’t have smartphones?

Different people favor different communication media because they retain info better in their media of choice, be it direct mail, a blog, a smartphone app or a podcast. If you don’t make it easy and convenient to consume, you’ll automatically prevent some people from receiving your message – no matter how urgent or important.

Remind

Most small business owners don’t know when they’ve lost a customer, and even when they do, most don’t communicate often enough with these “lost” customers via cost-effective methods.

Without up-to-date contact info and valuing your former customers’ time, your message either fails to reach the person or is of so little value, they ignore, unsubscribe or worse.

What could be worse? They forget you ever existed.

Clean

Do you keep your customer list clean?

Clean means you deal with bounced emails, returned mail and bad phone numbers so that your contact attempts get to the right place. For communications that require an investment, this helps make sure the money you spend actually gets the message delivered.

Segment

Do you communicate to different customer groups with a message fine tuned for their needs, wants and desires – or do you sent the same message to everyone?

Many small business owners waste a tremendous amount of time, goodwill and/or money contacting their entire client list rather than using finely tuned advertising and marketing, which keeps costs low and skyrockets results.

Even if you don’t use direct mail, there’s a lot to lose if you don’t make sure the right message reaches the right people.

How many times have you received a great “new customer promotion” deal even though you are a customer of that company? What messages does that send?

Proper communication is essential – and it’s far more than broadcasting your message to anyone with a heartbeat.

What sharp people MUST do before July 1st

shar pei dogs
Creative Commons License photo credit: emdot

On July 1st, how will you read your favorite blogs?

If your answer is “Google Reader”, you’re running out of time – Google Reader goes away on July 1st.

If you depend on Google Reader to read Business is Personal, much less other blogs, it’s time to make a choice about how you will move forward.

If you don’t, your blog reading list will be gone.

How do you avoid losing your blog reading list?

I suggest the following:

1) Use the instructions at Mashable to export your existing Google Reader RSS feed list so you’ll have a backup of the list of feeds you use. This export can be used with any feed reader.

2) Choose a new feed reader to replace Google Reader. Currently the leader seems to be Feedly, but Digg will soon introduce a new reader that might be worth trying. I haven’t seen the Digg Reader yet, but Feedly’s last couple of releases have made substantial strides in usability and performance. It’s a good product.

3) For feeds that are critical to you, you may want to get notifications via email so that you never miss a post.

What about Business is Personal?

To keep getting Business is Personal…

Thank you for reading. It means a lot to me.

P.S. If someone you know could take advantage of what we discuss here, please help them by sharing it them. I make that easy using the social sharing buttons below.

5 things your customers need to ask before buying what you sell

DSC_2848
Creative Commons License photo credit: KayOne73

While the questions are different for the bakery, appliance store, law firm and butcher shop – much less a software company or SEO firm, the need is the same.

These 5 questions can make your business different in the eyes of your customers – and they’re what you’d call attention to if you could do so without seeming so self-promotional.

Why questions? Because it feels out of context with the conversation you’re having with a customer if you blurt out “Our on-time deliveries are at 99.3% no matter what the weather throws at us”…unless they ask.

So how do you get prospects and existing customers to ask these things?

Maybe before we figure that out, we should make sure you have the right questions.

Triggers

If you’re listening to your customers and observing your customers, you might already know what the questions should be. Joe Sugarman wrote about some of them in “Triggers” (a book whose subtitle I don’t care for, but whose content is pure gold).

Listening for and measuring what triggers customer decisions helps you not only know what customers should be asking, but when they should be asked and why the answer is so valuable to the purchaser.

It’s important to encourage your customers and prospects to ask these questions, not just because you want another customer (or another sale), but because these are the questions that help them make the best purchase – even if it’s made somewhere else.

So how do you figure out what questions your clientele should be asking?

Finding your 5 questions

Let’s start with some comments that you would make about your business, your products and services, your staff and your clientele:

  • People would buy my product instead of someone else’s if they knew this one secret: _________.
  • Our most loyal, repeat customers use our product/service despite the higher price because ________.
  • When shopping by price alone, people looking for these items need to be aware of _____________.
  • People who don’t do business with us don’t realize that we _______.
  • People who don’t do business with us are surprised about _____________ when they switch to us.
  • The thing people most appreciate about our product/service is _______.
  • Service/maintenance on our product is needed less frequently / unnecessary / less expensive because ________.
  • Customers find it easy to use our product / service because _________.
  • The biggest fear our customers have prior to making this purchase is ____________.
  • Our on-time delivery percentage is higher than anyone in our market.
  • We’ve never gone over budget on a project.
  • Of 417 projects, we went over budget 3 times – but only with the approval of our client.
  • Our warranty / money-back guarantee is four times longer than anyone else’s.
  • We’re faster than our competition, but don’t sacrifice quality.
  • Our ingredients are all made / grown right here in Montana.
  • Our staff is certified / highly-trained and renews their training annually to keep it up to date.
  • We automate the mundane work so our people can focus on the things that make our stuff so special.
  • Everyone else uses white pine internal framing because it’s cheaper and no one sees it. We use oak / walnut / larch / etc because _______.
  • We offer gluten-free / nut-free / allergic-reaction-causing-food-free dishes because we have customers who are allergic to those items. We aren’t willing to give up those customers just because there’s a bit more work involved in serving them.
  • Our clients are highly-selective and do not have time to waste. Wowing them is what no one else is willing to do.
  • We include 36 short how-to videos on our website that help our do-it-yourself customers do normal maintenance at home.

Now what?

Now turn the ones that fit your business into questions. Pick the most important ones and put them to use right away.

  • Use them to set the “rules of engagement”.
  • Put the 5 most important ones on the back of your business card.
  • Blog about them.
  • Include them in the monthly newsletter.
  • Include them in your email sequence.
  • Give your customer a checklist of things to consider when buying whatever it is you sell.

Use them to tell your story…and they’ll introduce your business to others in the best possible way – by suggesting that no matter what your prospect buys, you’re providing the tools to help them make the best choice for their situation.

Every customer listens differently. Can they hear you?

In the TED talk “The danger of a single story“, Chimamanda Adichie shares some powerful lessons about stories, their environments and how they form our assumptions. It’s notable that she sees this from two sides: both, assumptions she and her family made and those made about her and her country/continent.

Once you’ve watched this, and yes, I realize you’re investing 18 minutes+ into this post, you’ll be much better prepared to consider the point of this post – that your business’ story is multi-faceted and the risk of telling just one story is shortchanging your business.

To put it in terms that fit the election season’s political rhetoric: If you are a fervent member of the blue party, when someone from the red party talks – I suspect you probably dont accept that the point that they’re making is worth listening to. Likewise, if you are a fervent member of the red party, when someone from the blue party tries to make a point, the situation is likely the same.

Are you “Talking to the hand”?

The stories your customers listen to might not be quite as highly charged as political conversation, but they still might be ineffective because your customer might feel you aren’t speaking to the problems/concerns they have.

The moment they think you aren’t talking about their problem, you may as well not be talking to them. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong / misguided / misinterpreting your story. It’s over as far as that conversation is concerned.

This is what makes it critical to know your ideal customers inside and out. Their needs, wants, fears and more. Every one of those requires you to tell a different story.

 

Telling your story

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/johnhaydon/statuses/175333443444539392″]

Telling your story doesn’t always mean “Sell, sell, sell!”

Sometimes it might mean an anecdote, a heads-up or a sliver of “Did you know?

It might mean that once a week or month, you remind your customers of that little thing they need to do – that might not cost a dime – to save themselves trouble, money or time. Little things like this are what make you special.

  • For some, that might be in the context of the weather: “Hey, a nasty cold snap is coming – if you don’t want pipes to freeze, do these 3 things…”
  • Someone else might tell their about what’s going on in the world of finance: “A new law was sent to the President’s desk this week, you might want to deal with this before it takes effect.”

The what isn’t nearly as important as the value you deliver to the “who” (your customers and prospects). Timely, brief, valuable, actionable information – not boring stuff you copied out of your industry trade magazine.

Being special isn’t that hard. It doesn’t take fireworks and massive expenditures.

It just takes showing your customers that you’re thinking about them and their welfare –  both strategically and where the little day-to-day stuff is concerned.

What else matters?

The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

Do at least one thing today

If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you know that I close most of the emails with “Do at least one thing today to get, or keep, a client.”

It’s as simple as it sounds…but do you do it?

Even if you can only spare 15 minutes, spend it every day doing something that attracts new clients or helps you keep the ones you have.

Here are a few ideas that can be accomplished in only a few minutes.

You could…

  • Write a blog post
  • Add another 200 words to your upcoming book
  • Review recent contact logs for ideas, potential problems or training needs.
  • Record a podcast
  • Design a new loyalty program or fix something about the one you have.
  • Ask someone who has never seen your website to let you watch while they try to use your website.
  • Ask one of your customers what they most value about what your company does.
  • Call a prospect who didn’t buy and ask them what turned them off to your company. Write them a thank you note (NOT AN EMAIL) afterward.
  • Follow up the “what turned you off” call with a “here’s what we did to fix that” postcard (postcards get seen)
  • Take the answer from the prior question and compare it to yours. Take action on your conclusion.
  • Create a new product or service
  • Write a thank you note to a new (or existing) customer.
  • Tweet about your favorite new product, customer, employee, industry discovery
  • Modify an existing product or service to make it easier to use.
  • Pick one thing off your customers’ pet peeve list and fix it.
  • Call one customer and talk to them about their experiences with your products, company, staff.
  • Call one customer and ask them what your company could do that would most impact their use of your products/services.
  • Call one customer and ask them what keeps them up at night, future-wise.
  • Call one customer and ask them what keeps them up at night, problem-wise.
  • Call one customer and talk to them about their next-big-thing.
  • Spend 15 minutes thinking about your next-big-thing (and take notes). Do so in a way and place that there is no way you can be interrupted during this effort.
  • Ask one staff member what you could do to help them be more productive.
  • Ask one staff member what they would fix first.
  • Ask one staff member about their vision for the company and its customers.
  • Ask your staff which meeting or other regular activity they find a complete waste of time – and what they would do instead.
  • Review your contact logs (or ask the staffer who is the first point of contact) to find out what’s on the mind of your customers these days.
  • Make a video showing off one of your product features that more people should use.

Those are just a few ideas. What would you add?

Jump in!

UPDATE:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/JustinKownacki/statuses/106754362109460481″]

That’s Justin’s tongue-in-cheek comment on what he wanted to happen after unsubscribing from a vendor’s email list today – only to find out it would take 10 days for the unsubscribe to occur. Sarcasm aside, that’s a personal touch not unlike the list above refers to…